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Pro Tools Tutorial For Beginners (Everything You Need To Know)

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In this video, you’ll learn the basics of how to record and mix your own music using Pro Tools. So if you’ve never used Pro Tools before or you’re just getting started, this video is for you.

Hey, this is Jason from Behind The Speakers. And before we dive in, I recommend that you download my free Pro Tools Quick Start Guide, which is going to make using Pro Tools faster and easier so you can get back to making music, which is what this whole thing is all about. So click the link above or in the description below to download this free guide right now.

Okay so take a look at my screen and see this window dashboard. This is the window that you’ll see when you first launch Pro Tools, and it’s where you can create and load sessions. Sessions are little containers that hold pieces of music that you’re working on. So whenever you want to record a new piece of music, you’re going to have to create a new session.

So let’s type in a name for this session. We’ll call it session sample. And down at the bottom we have a couple of different settings for the session itself. I recommend you copy these. 99% of the time, the settings I have here are going to work fine. And location we want to select where we want to save this session, so we’ll just save it on my desktop, and then we’ll click create.

So this is going to pull up the edit window, which is one of the main windows in Pro Tools you’ll be using when you create your music. There are a couple things I want to go over in this window. The first is this section up here, which is basically going to control how audio gets dragged around and moved around the edit window in Pro Tools. Don’t worry about that right now, we may get into that later.

Over here you’ll find different tools that you can use to manipulate audio in the edit window. So for example we have this trim tool right here, which will allow us to basically clean up the beginning and the end of a recording. So let’s say you record something, and the first ten seconds where you’re just kind of stumbling around in your room before you start, you can use that trim tool to clean up all that stuff so that it isn’t in your actual song. There are lots of other tools up here, we’ll get into some of them a bit later.

This counter section right here is going to show us how far along you are in our song. So if we press the play button, you can see this counter starts going up. This section over here controls what’s called the transport, which these are the most common buttons you’re probably going to be using in Pro Tools. We have the stop button, the play button, the record button. This is a little mini transport section. You can see down here we have this window that is the full transport. So you can see we have rewind, fast forward, some other things down here. Now if this window ever disappears for example, you can go window, transport, to pull it back up. It’s very useful when you’re making recordings and moving very quickly, it’s nice to have that window accessible.

Okay, so the first thing I want to show you is how to create a new track. Now tracks are like little layers in your mix that contain specific pieces of audio. So for example if you want to record your voice, you would create a new track, and then you would record your voice onto that track. Now if you recorded your voice and you wanted to record something else – let’s say a guitar – then you would create another new track in Pro Tools, and you would record the guitar onto that separate track. So now you have two different tracks, and you can actually control and manipulate those independently in Pro Tools.

So let’s go to track, new, and that will bring up the new track window. We have a couple different options here. The first is if you want to create more than one new track, you can type in a number here. So if you want to create like five at once, you can do that fairly easily. You have a selection between mono and stereo. Now mono is like a single source. So for example if you’re using a single microphone to record your voice, you would select mono. If you’re recording using more than one microphone, you’d switch that to stereo. If you’re creating instrument tracks, where you’re using let’s say a MIDI keyboard to play different instruments in Pro Tools, typically you want to choose stereo. So just remember for now – mono for vocal recordings and anything using one mic, stereo for using multiple mics and instrument tracks.

We’re going to select mono. There’s a couple different options for types of tracks. Audio track is where you would record microphone recordings. So if you’re recording the voice or an acoustic guitar or something like that using a real mic, audio track is what you choose. Instrument track is let’s say you’re using a MIDI keyboard to record a virtual piano or something like that, you’d select instrument track. We’re going to choose audio track for now, and click create.

And now you can see there’s this new lane right here in the edit window. Now something I just want to note here at the top, you can see there are these little lanes here at the top – minutes and seconds, bars and beats, and markers. From left to right is basically how our song progresses over time. So right here at the beginning is zero, that’s right at the beginning of the song. And then as we move forward, you can see the minutes and seconds get higher and higher. So one minute, two minutes, three minutes, and that’s going to basically show us how far we are into this specific song we’re working on.

Same thing with bars and beats here, so that’s a musical measurement of the same thing. And then we have markers down here. So if we want to visually see where different sections of our song are, we can use markers to make that easier. So if we press this plus button right here, let’s say we type in chorus and click okay, now you can see we have this little marker that shows us where the chorus is. Very helpful if you have a big session with lots of different song sections and you want to quickly be able to hop back and forth between different sections.

Okay so we have our audio track here. Now if we double-click on that we can rename it. So let’s call it voice. And if you look over here, you’ll see this i/o tab, which basically stands for input and output. This controls what’s being sent into this track, and what’s being sent out of that track. So input is basically what we want to feed into this audio track.

Now in this case, I want to record my voice. So I would set this up so that the input is whatever the input is on my audio interface that I’ve plugged my mic into. So in this case, my mic is plugged in to input one. So I would select that there. Now for some reason you click this and you’re not seeing the right inputs – for example you have an audio interface with two inputs but it’s not showing anything, chances are you need to adjust the playback engine settings. So if you go to setup, playback engine, this section here is going to be the thing you’re going to need to look at.

So in this case I have a FocusRite Scarlett interface, so that’s what I’ve selected here, but we have a couple different options. And sometimes those can change at weird points for some reason, so you want to make sure you’ve selected your interface here. The other thing that’s very helpful in this window is this H/W buffer size. So if this buffer is set too high, oftentimes what happens is there will be a delay between when you, let’s say, press a note on your MIDI keyboard and when you hear it coming out of your speakers. So if you’re feeling like there’s a delay, what we call latency, between the sound as you sing it or play it and when you’re hearing it coming out of your speakers, chances are this buffer size is set too high. So you want to go into that playback engine and just turn that down a little bit.

Okay, so the output, this second little gray box here, is going to control where the audio gets sent to. So in this case, it’s unassigned right now. So we just want to click that and select output, and then main output. So that’s going to send it out to our speakers so now we can hear it. Now if I want to record something onto this track, I have to press this button right here, this track record enable button. And if we press it, you can hear my voice now being played out of Pro Tools. So that’s going to set up the track for recording.

Okay so let’s click that, and now in order to record we have to do two things. So Pro Tools works like an old school cassette recorder. If you’ve ever used an old cassette recorder you know that in order to record something, you have to press two buttons. You have to press the record button and the playback button. So I’m going to do that now, and then I’m going to record a lovely, Grammy-winning performance by me.

Testing one, two, three. This is Jason, hi. Go to BehindTheSpeakers.com.

Okay, lovely performance. Now we have this piece of music. I’ve turned off the record enable button so now we don’t hear my voice live being fed off the mic, and now we have this little piece of audio Pro Tools calls a clip. And we can do some things with this clip in order to manipulate it in Pro Tools.

So first of all, it’s kind of way at the middle of our song. It starts at like twenty seconds. So we can use this grabber tool here and move it back to the beginning of the session, and that’s pretty useful. Right now we have slip mode turned on at the top, you can see here, which is going to allow us to just freely move this clip. But if we have grid mode turned on, what happens is Pro Tools will snap this to a bar or a beat. So you can see here it kind of snaps to the nearest bar.

So if that’s happening and you don’t want that, you can turn on slip mode, and then you can just kind of freely move it wherever you want.

So let’s zoom in a little bit. We’re going to click this button down here at the bottom right to zoom in. And the first thing I noticed is that there’s a bit of a delay before I start talking. So you can see here right at the beginning, we have maybe a half second or so before I start my lovely performance. So I want to clean that up, because I want my performance to start right at the beginning of the song. So I’m going to click this trim tool here up at the top, and then select the edge of this clip, and then drag it in. So now we’ve removed all of this audio right at the beginning, and I’m going to scroll to the end and I’m going to do the same thing. So I don’t really want that part at the end. And now I’m going to use the grabber tool to drag this all the way back to the beginning of the session. So now if we press play –

Testing one, two, three. This is Jason, hi.

Our voice starts right at the beginning of our session, we don’t have that delay. So that’s pretty useful.

So let’s say we want to split this piece of audio up and drag it to multiple different places. So let’s say we like the place that this first piece of audio is, but we want this second half to be a bit later in the song. So what I’m going to do is I’m going to select the point where I want to split these, and then I’m going to go to edit, separate clip, at selection. So now you can see there’s this little line. And now if we zoom out and switch over to our grab tool, now we can move this piece of audio somewhere else. So let’s say we want to move it to the chorus, we can put it there.

The last thing I want to show you here is how to create a fade. So oftentimes at the beginning and the ends of clips, we want to add a little fade so that the audio kind of smoothly comes in and smoothly goes out. We don’t hear it so abruptly come in like it does often when we just record it and have it without a fade. So the way that I’m going to create a fade is if you click this little section right above these tools, you can see now all three of them are selected. And that’s going to enable what Pro Tools calls the smart tool, which is kind of like a tool on steroids so to speak.

So if we zoom back in right at the beginning here, and you can see if I move my mouse up to the lefthand corner, the top corner of this little clip, my mouse icon changes into a little square with this bar inside it. That’s going to allow us to create a fade. So if I click and then drag, you can see now we have a fade created. And we can drag it in as far as we want it to be in the audio. So now if we go back to the beginning and press play –

Testing one, two. three. This is Jason.

So you can see the audio kind of fades in at the beginning, and that’s pretty useful. Same thing at the end if we want to have a little fade there.

Okay so now we have our beautiful piece of Grammy-winning audio that we’ve recorded. Let’s say we want to add some accompaniment to this piece of music. Now one thing I just want to mention before I show you that is if you’re feeling kind of overwhelmed with all of this, it’s a lot, I know, especially if you’re learning how to use Pro Tools for the first time. I recommend you download my free Pro Tools Quick Start Guide by clicking the link above or in the description below. It summarizes all the stuff we cover in this video, so you can keep that guide unhand and just quickly remember how to do these things if you ever forget. It’s just going to make using Pro Tools easier and faster so you can get back to making music. So click the link above or in the description below if you want that, it’s completely free again.

Okay, so let’s add an accompaniment track to this beautiful performance. I’m going to create a new stereo track, and instead of audio track we’re going to create an instrument track. So now we have this instrument track that looks kind of similar to the audio track. It’s a little bit different, and you’ll see in a second why.

So the first thing is I’m going to go to unassigned over here under the output section, and I’m going to change that to main output. So now that’ll make sure we can hear it through our speakers. I’m going to double-click here, rename that, and we’ll press record arm. Now in order to hear something out of this instrument track, we need to add a virtual instrument to this specific track. A virtual instrument is a piece of software that converts the information that we send from our MIDI keyboard into audio that we can actually hear.

So in this case, I’m going to click this little box here, one of these little empty boxes. Now if you don’t see these boxes, you can go over to view, edit window views, and then sometimes inserts will be unchecked. So you can see if we hide this it will go away, so you want to make sure those are checked, and that way you can see that. And so under the inserts section, you’re going to click one of these empty boxes, multi-channel plug-in, go down to the instrument section. These are a couple of different virtual instruments that I have, a lot of them are included with Pro Tools for free. So let’s pull up the mini grand. This is a plug-in that Pro Tools will give you for free. But if you don’t have it, sometimes you have to download it. So go to the Avid website and just look in your whatever they call it membership area or whatever and you can actually download these virtual instruments for free.

So now we have this virtual instrument pulled up. And if I play a couple notes on my MIDI keyboard, you can now hear a beautiful mini grand piano. If we’re recording a piece of piano, chances are we need something to help us keep time. Most of the time you’re not just going to record something free form. You want to add what’s called a click track. And this is like a metronome that’s going to keep tempo throughout our song so that we record something in time and we don’t speed up or slow down too much.

So I’ve created a new click track by going to track, create click track. And you can see here we have this click track here. If we drag this out a little bit you can see that it’s unassigned. So in order to hear it, we have to change the output section again to main out, and then if we press play now –

Testing one, two, three. This is Jason, hi.

We can hear our lovely click track playing through our speakers. If we want to change the tempo, let’s say that’s too fast for example – we can go to window, transport, and then that transport window remember that I showed you earlier will show now. And we have to click this little button down here that looks like a conductor to turn off the conductor track, and now we have this little section down here tempo we can use to change the tempo. So right now it’s 120, that’s the default. But let’s say we want to change it to 80. So now when we press play –

Testing one, two, three. This is Jason, hi.

So now the tempo is much slower. So let’s mute the voice for a second. You can see this button right here will actually mute a specific track. So now we’re not going to hear the voice, and I’m going to – whoops let’s just close this – press record and play, and then I’m going to record a bit of piano music.

Now the last thing I just want to show you real quick here is sometimes you want a little bit of lead in before you start recording. So you don’t want to record right at the beginning of the song. Like if we press play right now, you’ll see immediately we start recording. But sometimes you need let’s say a bar or two to get kind of warmed up before Pro Tools starts recording. So if you click this little count off section, and let’s change this to one bar, now Pro Tools is going to give us a bar of count off before it starts recording. So now if we press play, you can see we have a full bar, and then we start recording right there. So that’s pretty helpful if you want to give yourself a little bit of lead in to prepare before you start recording. So let’s leave that as-is. I’m going to press play, and then I’m going to record my lovely piece of piano music.

Whoops, something I forgot to mention is that you want to make sure that you change the looping settings here. So this selection is actually going to control the piece of the session that Pro Tools is paying attention to. So if we have this section selected and it’s a short section, then when we get to the end of that section Pro Tools is just going to loop back to the beginning and start playing again. So in this case, that kind of screwed me up. I’m going to undo that, and now we don’t have any selection. And we’re going to press record and we’re going to try that again.

So now we have our piano music recorded. And you can see here this looks pretty different from the audio track. So instead of this little squiggle thing that we call a waveform – if we zoom in a little bit we can see this a bit more clearly – so you can see here the audio track we have what’s called a waveform. So we can see these little squiggles and lines. Whereas on the piano track on the instrument track, instead of that, we have these little bars. Now this is because when we’re recording something using a MIDI keyboard, we’re recording what’s called MIDI, which is actually not audio. It’s data about when we hit certain notes, how long they play, what velocity or how hard we hit those specific keys. That’s all that we’re recording. So we’re recording that information, just data, it’s not sound, and then this virtual instrument, this mini grand plug-in, takes all that data and converts it into sound that we can hear.

So the useful thing about this is because we still have all this original data, we can now manipulate that in Pro Tools. So if I click the grab tool again and then double-click now, we have a new view that pulls up called MIDI editor. And that will basically allow us to manipulate the data that we’ve just recorded. So let’s take a listen again.

Okay so that sounds pretty good to me, but you know what? I don’t really want this top note in here, this top note. So let’s just select all of these notes, and then I’m going to press the delete key. So now when we listen –

So now we have the same performance without that top note. Now let’s say we want to just move some notes around a little bit. So instead of that last chord, we want something a little bit different. Let’s say I’m going to go to an a minor. So all I’m doing is selecting these notes and dragging them. Ooh very dark and ominous, right? So this is what’s cool about recording MIDI, is now we have control over these individual notes.

Now if you don’t have a MIDI keyboard, you can actually just drag or create notes manually. So you can use this pencil tool up here to create notes just that way.

Now let’s say the timing of this performance is kind of a little bit wonky, and we want to just clean that up very quickly. What we can do is use something called quantize. And what quantize will do is it will basically snap all of these notes to the nearest point on this grid here. So this grid is basically a measurement of time or our tempo. So you can see this bars and beats up here. And so if we recorded something like let’s say we have this note right here and we were a little bit late, and we just want Pro Tools to kind of correct for that.

So if we select everything, right-click, and click event operations, quantize, now what we can do is we can tell Pro Tools we want you to just kind of make everything on time. So if we click apply – whoops let’s change this to one-eighth – now you can see what happened here is Pro Tools snapped the note to the nearest point on the grid that makes sense. So in this case, it actually did the opposite of what we want, right? In this case we wanted it to come back here, but it dragged it all the way over here. Now if we take a listen –

So everything’s been kind of snapped to the grid now. It’s tempo-perfect locked into time. So sometimes quantize is useful, and it’s a tool that can help you to clean up the timing of performances. But in this case, it’s not doing a great job. Sometimes it’s helpful to choose a different grid – for example if we choose one-sixteenth note, it will snap to the nearest sixteenth note instead of the nearest eighth note, which might be a bit more musical. But it’s something you want to use carefully, because it can really suck the life out of performances. In this case, let’s just leave it there, sounds pretty decent.

Now let’s say we’re really happy with this performance. We have our vocal and we have our piano, and we want to do a bit of mixing to just adjust the levels of these tracks and make them sound good together.

So I’m going to open what Pro Tools calls the mix window if you go to window, mix. And now there’s this other window here, this is the other main window in Pro Tools that you’ll be using. Now all of our tracks instead of being displayed horizontally are now being displayed vertically. So you can see this channel here is the voice, and this channel here is the piano, and then we have our click track here from top to bottom instead of left to right.

So the first thing I’m going to do is use this mute button to mute our click. We don’t need our click anymore since we’ve already recorded these tracks. That button here is going to mute tracks. So if you want not to hear anything, you can just use the mute button on the individual track.

Now if we want to just listen to a certain track on its own, we can also the solo button here. So for example if we just want to hear the piano without the voice, we can press the solo button and now we’re hearing the piano on its own.

So let’s go back to the beginning of the song. I’m going to press that back button on our transport, un-solo that track, and I’m just going to use these faders to adjust the volume of these different tracks so that they sound like they are sitting at a good level relative to each other.

Testing, one, two, three. This is Jason. Hi.

Testing, one, two, three. This is Jason. Hi.

Testing, one, two, three. This is Jason. Hi.

Now if you’re wondering how I’m starting and stopping the song so quickly, the spacebar is a shortcut that you can use to press play and press stop. So that’s something you’re probably going to use a lot. It’s a very easy way to do that instead of just going to the transport and having to use your mouse.

So now that sounds pretty good to me. Now the last thing I’m going to do is I’m going to save our entire song that we’ve created as a file on my computer. So what I’m going to do is I’m going to go to file, bounce to, disk. So at this point, we’re happy with the piece of music we’ve created, we want to create a file that we can share with our friends, and this is how we’re going to do it. So bounce source, we’ll keep that as-is. File type, format, bit depth, again I recommend you just copy these settings. If you want something you can send via email, you might want to choose mp3, those files are a lot smaller and they tend to send a lot better via email.

Now under file name, you just want to put the name of your song. Directory you can choose where you want to save it. And then we’ll click bounce, and we’ll save an mp3. And now you can see here if we go to the folder, now we have our beautiful piece of music –

Testing, one, two, three. This is Jason.

– saved as a file. Pretty cool, huh? So at this point you should be wrapping your head around the basics of how to use Pro Tools. But if you’re feeling like a little bit overwhelmed and you’re worried you’re going to forget all of this stuff, I recommend that you download my free Pro Tools Quick Start Guide by clicking the link above or in the description below. This guide contains all the stuff that we covered in this video, and it’s a great thing to have on hand while you’re working with Pro Tools. It’s going to make the process much faster and easier so you can get back to making music, which is what this is all about. So you can download this again for free by clicking the link above or in the description below.

And before you go, leave a comment below this video and let me know – which version of Pro Tools are you using right now? Pro Tools First, the full version of Pro Tools, which version are you using? I’d love to hear your replies so leave your answer in the comments section below.

Thanks so much for watching. And if you want more Pro Tools tutorials and music-making tutorials like these, check out my YouTube channel right here or go to BehindTheSpeakers.com.